Reporting Bob Roberts
CHICAGO (WBBM) – It was an incredible coincidence.
Wednesday morning, about 35 people, many of them Chicago Fire Department personnel or retired firefighters, were taking part in a ceremony marking the worst day in Chicago Fire Department history — the Union Stockyards fire of Dec. 22, 1910 in which 21 firemen died, including the department’s top official, Fire Marshal James Horan.
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Names were being read off, and a bell rung for each of those who died.
In the midst of the roll call, the radios on the two trucks at the ceremony, Engine 49 and Truck 33, and the chiefs on hand came alive — blaring a mayday call because of the fatal roof collapse on the 1700 block of East 75th Street.
“It broke most of the firemen down in tears when we found out,” said Bill Cosgrove, a retired firefighter who helped to spearhead the drive to erect the memorial, just inside the old main gate to the Union Stockyards.
“It stopped us in our tracks,” Cosgrove said. “We were trying to go through with this procedure, the roll call, and we all just hung our heads and said an Our Father.”
He said the chiefs and a couple of other active-duty firefighters immediately responded to the call as the others concluded the ceremony and prayer.
Retired CFD Captain Bill Cattorini, who has also researched the blaze, worked with Cosgrove to build the memorial and also attended the ceremony, said the 1910 broke out at 4 a.m. in a cold storage warehouse.
“It was very difficult to fight a fire in there cause there was no windows,” Cattorini said. “It was eight stories high. They knew there was going to be a battle but … a wall came down unexpectedly and buried them.”
The temperature on the day of that fire was 24 degrees, the same as it was Wednesday.
“One hundred years ago on the same day, temperatures the same. It’s just eerie,” he said.